Plant and flower industry call for urgent resolve on import cost hikes

Horticulture and flower industry trade bodies write open letter calling for urgent political attention to the mounting import cost rises

An Old Map of Europe

The letter, written by the UK’s Horticultural Trades Association and sister associations from across Europe, calls for engagement and action on costs, systems, data, and future plans. It provides multiple examples of the costs and challenges hitting real-life SMEs throughout the supply chain and where costs and pinch-points are reducing the viability of trade for many.

The new rules require plant and animal products coming into Britain from the EU to be checked at the border, which previously were spot-checked once they reached the destined nurseries – and hence in the care of experts. The industry trade bodies warn that the new post-Brexit border posts are not working properly, causing extensive delays, damage and significant cost hikes of more than 25% for importers.

The problem is acute, especially considering the dependence of our horticultural industry on imports from the EU – 99% of all UK growers import some plant material from the EU. A total of 84% of the plants, bulbs, seeds and cut flowers are imported from the EU amounting to a value of EU-UK trade of £1.218 billion.

The letter reports worrying examples such as a haulier, having 25 trucks inspected in a week, meaning drivers were waiting a total of 93 hours over one week, costing their company over £38,000 in extra costs. That same company is now projecting costs, based on the current (low) inspection rate, to amount to £1.5million over a 12-month period, representing a 25% increase in logistics costs.

Another example reports of small consignments from the EU (single pallet or trolley of plants) which form the backbone of the UK horticulture production sector, that are now faced with the requirement to pay the full £145 Common User Charge (CUC) for using a government-run Border Control Post (BCP). With several similar consignments on one lorry (i.e. groupage), there could be several maximum CUC charges for that lorry, so if there were 12, for example, this would total £1740 CUC for that lorry alone, making the trade unviable.

James Barnes, HTA’s Chairman, said:

“We are two months into a fundamental shift in how the UK environmental horticulture sector supply chains operate, leaving the sector with cost hikes and uncertainty at all stages in the import process. The general election has diverted political attention from a crisis in how we supply the UK’s 30 million gardeners, the viability of a sector worth £28.8 billion to GDP and employing almost 700,000 jobs.

“With the election just days away, the industry is calling for urgent engagement and action to ensure the UK’s border policy is fit for moving plants and flowers this season and to sustain future green growth. As an industry, we face pressures across the board, from weather to regulations to sector-specific issues, like Plant Breeders’ Rights. We ask all politicians and policymakers to act swiftly to smooth out border challenges, address costs, and take seriously the sector’s need for an SPS or plant health agreement with the EU.

“We are a sector ideally placed to deliver on the challenges of any government – from green growth to net-zero, health and wellbeing to innovation – very few industries can provide the solutions for so much. With our partners across Europe, we hope to see such close collaborative working resume here in the UK to deliver for environmental horticulture and the nation as a whole.

In addition to the rising import costs, drivers are now unwilling to bring goods across the border due to long hours spent waiting on docksides and poor driver welfare. Welfare should be addressed at all ports, as welfare facilities are inadequate and vary according to port. While it is noted that facilities were intentionally limited as BCPs are meant to facilitate fast inspections, this is not the case. It is inhumane, and archaic to expect drivers not to have access to their cabs, proper washing facilities or food/hot drinks in cases when wait times regularly exceed 10 hours, and have even stretched to 48 hours+ at some locations.